The warm air swept off the ocean and wrapped my body in a warm velvet cloak. I pulled up to a little hut sitting on the hill overlooking the sugar cane fields. Fans twirled on the ceiling moving the air gently throughout the room. A man and a woman chatted at the front desk; artists in sun-drenched rooms sketched on pads, whispering amongst themselves. I pulled from my purse the concept for my future design and presented it to a pleasant young man. Three days later I returned and he presented me with several illustrations. I chose the one I liked best and prepared to be inked. He placed me in a straddled position on a cushioned bench, my upper body supported at a slight incline so he could have easy access to my lower back. He placed some pillows under my arm and head to keep me as comfortable as possible. I cringed at the first jab of the needle puncturing the surface of my skin. It was but a few moments of discomfort and then my body relaxed under the cyclic rhythm of the needle.
Humans have been marking their bodies for hundreds of years. There are as many reasons people get a tattoo as there are people in the world. A tattoo is very personal to each individual. It can empower them, motivate them, and tell a story about them. Recently I came across an article posted on several social media sites about people donning tattoos as a badge of their battle with RA. Scrolling through the varied images, I wondered if I would ever consider a tattoo that embodied my life with arthritis. I think I would have a difficult task creating a meaningful emblem of my disease. It wouldn’t be a clear image – like the many manifestations of arthritis, my tattoo would be a nebulous cloud, a picture of perfect ambiguity. I feel RA is already tattooed on my body. It is etched in my swollen and tender joints, carved in the indentations left on my skin from braces and ring splints, etched in the slowly changing appearance of my hands, knees and feet. I see its permanent design in the new pattern of my life. It is written in the path I tread between chronic illness and other facets of my life. Living with arthritis is as uncomfortable and disconcerting as that first needle piercing the surface of the skin – once it leaves its mark, it takes time to adjust to the new design etched on our life.
Tattoos used to be a permanent chronicle of a stage or moment in one’s life. Now technology can alter that story, and in some cases, erase it – although its presence will still linger in the scar it leaves behind. Even so, it gives us hope that perhaps one day the story of arthritis will also be transformed and the most empowering mark on our body will be the scar that tells the story of how we endured.
Here is the link to Healthline’s arthritis inspired tattoos: http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/rheumatoid-arthritis-tattoos#1
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.